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I love road trips. It is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle game.
Each piece contain a detail. All the pieces have their own shape, colour and identity: despite that, we can see the whole picture only when we’ve worked them out together.
Peru is huge and full of enchantment. But which are the best cities and sights to visit? 10 days are not a lot, and of course a choice must be taken. From the culinary temptations of Lima, to the extreme altitude of Cuzco to the magic sanctuary of Machu Picchu; from the shores of the Titicaca to the modern Arequipa, Peru has charmed me at every single step of the journey.
When to visit Peru
Choosing the low or shoulder season is a good option for Peru.
When I started planning this trip, I read many forums and travel websites and understood that February will have been rainy season in most of the areas I wanted to visit in Peru; but for this reason, prices will have been more affordable and sights less crowded. Moreover, that was the only time of the year when my friend and I could get a 4/5 weeks off.
So that was it, Skyscanner’s prices alert on, and few weeks later we had the trip booked. ✈️
The best things of being there within low season was having most sights as the ruins of Machu Picchu almost empty, good deals for accommodation and tours, restaurants never too crowded.
Peruvians are helpful, friendly and they love starting up conversation with travellers: travelling in low season you will make new friends even more easily as they will not be too busy yet.
If you are going to travel across Peru in February, check out the event’s calendar and don’t miss the Fiesta de la Candelaria: it’s the feast in honour of Virgin of Candelaria, patron of the city of Puno and it’s the most important and colourful feast of Peruvian folklore.
If you want to do the Inca trail instead, then choose a different time of the year, as it will be closed for the whole month of February.
Top 5 places you should visit in Peru and why
1. Culinary temptations in Lima
Foodies have a new heaven on earth.
Our journey begins in Lima, in a sunny sticky morning. At first sight Lima shows up as a modern capital, with skyscrapers and malls, poor and rich districts, street markets and luxury shops avenidas.
The old town is walkable and relatively small. Wear comfortable shoes and find your way from the main square Plaza de Armas to Plaza Bolivar, up to the unmissable barrio chino (Chinatown).
Thank to its great street food and fusion cuisine, Lima is like heaven on heart for foodies and that was the main reason why I wanted to stop there for at least couple of days. After a 20 something hours journey, 4 flights and just as many airline meals, Lima is the perfect place to recover.
✏️ Lima tips
? Stay nearby Kennedy park in the upper class district of Miraflores, quite enjoyable at night, safe and close to the old town (10 minutes taxi ride, approx 5 €). For a low budget accommodation, book your stay at Friend’s House.
? Wanna taste great fusion cuisine at a reasonable price? Stop for lunch at Avila Restobar and try their cau cau de pollo, traditional chicken stew served with rice. Your stomachs will be thankful.
2. Relieve stress in Cuzco
Because even doing nothing is doing something.
I am an active person, both in travel and everyday life. I have troubles in chilling, laying down and being lazy, doing nothing for long time. That is why I love road trips. I’m a hyperactive person I confess.. But hey, that’s another story right?!
For at least the first 48 hours, there is not much you can do in Cuzco. Altitude sickness will get you, sooner or later and will force you to slow down and take it easy, if you are not super girls or iron men. Cuzco has vivid colonial and inca heritages and I just couldn’t wait to walk up and down its irregular cobblestones. Due to altitude sickness, I started feeling quite funny, it was like having temperature, complete with headache and aching bones.
I felt like in a cage: there’s nothing worse than arriving in a new exciting city and being sick. In the end I had to give up and rest. ?
My to-do-list for the next days will have been drinking uncountable cups of mate the coca (yes, the coca tea), getting hot stone massages and relaxing in the hostel’s garden watching clouds passing by. Cuzco is the ideal place to relieve stress, reset, stop thinking and overthinking, stop planning too much and worrying about what to do next, in a word: stop.
After 2 days spent doing almost “nothing” I was in good shape both physical and mental and ready to make my way to the Sacred Valley.
✏️ Cuzco tips
? Several flights connect Lima to Cuzco daily, and booking in advance you can get a seat from about 50$ or less. Local buses are available for cheaper prices. Personally, I was happy with Latam airlines: landing in Cuzco is also an amazing experience!
? We planned to stay in Cuzco for two nights, as recommended, to get acclimated to the extreme altitude: the city is spotted in the very middle of Andes, at 3326 meters above the sea level. The best way to help your body facing altitude sickness is to stay away from alcohol and eat light, and that’s the exact opposite of what we did. Once we arrived in Cuzco, we went out for a couple (or more) and tried a 5 dishes menu including the speciality of this area: the grilled cuy. That was not really a good idea.
? For a budget but traditional accommodation check out the Kurumi hostel, beautiful and familiar with a quite garden, free coca tea served all day, generous breakfast, friendly staff and very good wifi connection (extremely hard to find in Peru!) That was the right place to get acclimated and chill.
3. Challenge yourself up to Wayna Picchu
«The danger sensation is exciting. The challenge is to find new dangers» - Ayrton Senna
A bucket list without Machu Picchu is like a cup of tea without .. tea!
Come on, it’s a must-tick for any travel addict.
Incas considered Machu Picchu the heart of the world.
When I found myself in front of this sanctuary for the first time, after having dreamed of it for so long, I understood how right they were.
Machu Picchu was one of the most emotional experiences in my life. Happy day I wish to live again and again.
Even if you are more into out-of-the-beaten-tracks experiences, you will fall in love with Machu Picchu, exactly as I did and exactly as everybody will do after you: if not for the over photographed famous view on its ruins, then for the scary hike to Wayna Picchu (also named Huayna Picchu, which means Young mountain), its highest peak: 3270 m of pure adrenaline.
If you suffer from vertigo, don’t do it. If you are experiencing the effects of altitude sickness, then leave it. But if you are in good shape and in a chase for adventures, then climbing Wayna Picchu is the right experience for you.
I love challenges and pushing myself to new limits: Wayna Picchu was pretty scaring, but totally worthy. We reached the top of the peak in about 1 hour, despite the pour rain: both the view and the satisfaction paid my effort back with generous interests. I felt on top of e world and loved it so much!
Ah, this was before finding out on the web that this hike is top rated among the 20 most dangerous hikes in the world ?
✏️ Machu Picchu tips
Book you ticket in advance on Ticket Macchu Picchu and make sure you get the option that includes Wayna Picchu. In fact, only 400 hundred people are allowed to enter this sight per day, and reservation is not possible on the spot.
There are two scheduled time to enter the Wayna Picchu site and you must be on time there. First group entrance is from 7 to 8 am, second one (recommended) is from 10 to 11 am.
? For visiting Machu Picchu, the best and closest place to stay is Aguas Calientes, which you will reach on an unforgettable train ride on board of Rail Peru departing from Poroy or Ollantaytambo station (book your round trip ticket well in advance).
? For a budget and nice accommodation, stay at Varayoc B&B also available on booking.com. Aaron, the owner, came to pick us up at the station, helped us getting the tickets for Machu Picchu and give us a lot of useful tips and advices. He went above and beyond his job making our stay more than enjoyable. So far this was the best accommodation in Peru, at a very reasonable rate.
? Buses depart every morning and take you right to the entrance of the ruins (about 12 $ one way): get ready for a long cue, as in February visitors were on line since 4 am.
? Alternatively, for avoiding cue and waste of time, saving money and above all get the best from Machu Picchu experience, follow our footprints and hike straight from the pueblo/village: the path will take you to the entrance of the ruins in about 3 hours or less. For me, it was an unforgettable trekking and it made me feel as if I deserved entering the sanctuary a bit more. During the hike don’t forget to stop for refreshments and some good shots.
? Bring enough water and some energetic food, a raincoat and a waterproof bag for your camera, wear good trekking shoes and a thermal or a cotton t-shirt; don’t forget to take your passport with you and the printed ticket.
? Restrooms, bar and restaurant are located at the entrance of the sanctuary, there are no more inside: keep in mind that every ticket allows you re-entering the site 3 times, without any extra fee.
? Fanatic of passport stamps? Get your Machu Picchu stamp on passport at the kiosk, right in front of the exit and he cloakroom.
? Wanna learn more about this fascinating site? If you are a book worm like me, then you should get The lost city of Incas by Hiram Bingham, the explorer who discovered Machu Picchu in 1911. The book is at the same time a romance and the travel diary of the great adventurer.
4. Shop at the farmers’ market in Puno
A picture of rural and authentic Peru, with lake Titicaca on the background.
Forget about women beautifully dressed in traditional costumes asking you money in exchange of a picture; forget about big mall selling stocks of souvenirs; forget as well about luxury boutiques of alpaca’s precious wool. Welcome to the most authentic part of Peru, the most untouched, the side has been less changed by tourism: the town of Puno is the Peruvian Peru, that kind of places I was looking forward to reach.
It was Sunday, so we could wander around the massive farmers’ market.
Everything on sale here come from the surroundings areas: from vegetables to fruits to coffee to flowers; from colourful spices to clothes and – of course- to the delicious street food!
Puno farmers’ market is the most important event of the week for the inhabitants so it is the perfect place for one of my favourite activity: people watching.
Shoe-shine boys, quail eggs sellers, old women in braided hairs carrying unbelievable amount of stuff on their back, mothers walking along with infants comfortably sleeping in the popular “manta” or “aguayo”, the Quechua name for the colourful, striped baby carrier.
At any corner I wanted to stop and make pictures, so we ended up that spending almost the whole morning there. ?
At lunch time the market is again the best place to be, as most of specialities here are produced with zero food miles: after few stops at the food kiosks we entered a local “braseria”, kind of fast food serving good pollo a la brasa (grilled chicken) and refreshing homemade iced tea. The best thing was eating next to workers and families with children, and despite being the only foreigners, they made us feel home: a warm and genuine smile can sometimes feed better than 100 burgers.
✏️ Puno tips
? From Cusco, make your way to Puno on a night bus, which will allow you to save both time and money on accommodation. The bus lives daily at about 10 pm and takes approximately 7/8 hours to reach Puno. The company Titicaca Bolivia was a good choice: ride was safe and smooth, seats were as comfortable as it can be on a night bus, and the route would proceed to Bolivia, as its name suggests.
Book your ticket when in Cuzco, at any official travel agency.
? About tours on the lake Titicaca, I personally will not recommend the boat excursion to Uros floating village, which I found bit fake and kind of tourist trap. To see some real floating villages, it would be worthy going further up to the islands of Taquille or Amantaní maybe.
☀️ Oh, don’t forget sun cream while going around: you are sailing the world’s highest navigable body of water (3812 m) and sun burnt would be a not so good souvenir.
5. See into the future in Arequipa
«The best way to predict your future is to create it» - Abraham Lincoln
If you will get to Arequipa, it is because of the last piece of the puzzle game: the one you could not find for weeks, the one you thought it was lost, the one you use to find under the old sofa and stretch your arm and fingers to catch. The one without which the picture is uncompleted.
It is only a small piece, but because it is missing it seems the most important of all.
Well, Arequipa will complete your picture.
If you wanna know in which direction Peru is going, in Arequipa you can predict it.
The future is here, in this town well ahead on time, whose present is as intruiging as its charming past.
Colonial Arequipa, also named the white city, is the second largest city of the country and it is considered the economical and culinary capital of Peru.
It is the Peruvian Mecca for foodies: my stomach and my eyes could not just have enough of its gorgeous picanterias, ethnic restaurants, bakery kiosks, fairy cafés and elegant patisseries.
Despite that, what I loved most of Arequipa was its avant-garde personality, unique throughout Peru: thanks to its proud, convincing and cultured inhabitants, Arequipa has been able to combine attachment to old habits with the hard work of visionary mentor of the (not just culinary) country’s renaissance.
Arequipa is maybe the richest city of Peru, if not in terms of money then in terms of fervent literary production, and the arequipeños ( the inhabitants of Arequipa) are working hard to keep the story going on. With both stable economy and safe environment, is the most enjoyable and lively city of the country, and absolutely my favourite: a place I could easily set down, or wish to have more time to spend in.
✏️ Arequipa tips
✈️ You can fly to Arequipa from Lima or reach the city by bus from Puno on a 6 hours ride which will also go across some rural areas and stunning mountains.
? For a budget but nice room, perfectly located, reserve at the El Albergue Español backpackers, listed by the Lonely planet: the double room is absolutely the most charming I had during the trip, and a very reasonable rate. The staff provide us with good advices about restaurants shops and places to visit.
? My favourite eat was at Hatunpa, few steps from e Plazas the Armas and the convent of Santa Caterina.
This little restaurant with friendly service and smart personality serves delicious potato based dishes and will introduce you to the unbelievable variety of potatoes grown in Peru: each potato has a proper colour and flavour and the dish comes with different sauces and spices, for an unforgettable tasting experience. Just not to be missed!
Are you planning a road trip to Peru and want to know more? Just ask me!
Have you been to this enchanting country already? Share with me and fellow travellers your favourite sights and why you loved them ?